Stylocycle’s Blog


Crying while Riding
November 25, 2008, 11:52 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Today I rode home while bawling my eyes out for our little 7 month-old cat who has just been diagnosed with FIP — a fatal and intractable disease. I was also bawling for my son, because Miss Clyde is *his* kitty.

Pretty much the only comfort I had today was the sound of my tires moving through the slushy snow on the roadways.



Change
November 23, 2008, 3:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Today’s post is not about biking, but about another cherished part of my regular life: shopping for groceries at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. I’m not actually from Toronto; I was born on the West coast and lived there until I was 7. However, when my father moved me back with him to Toronto, the first thing he did to console me for my loss of mountains and sea was to take me to the St. Lawrence Market, and he explained to me that his grandfather had sold his farm produce there, and that during the depression it had been my dad’s job to accompany his mother to the market because as the most efficient packer he would get the most out of the “all you can put in a bushel basket for $1” deal. My father’s family was not poor in the depression, but he had aunts, uncles and cousins who were poor, and so it was my father’s family who took care of feeding the rest. Thus I came to learn about the market and its place in the sustenance of families. It’s not something the local mega grocery-chain can ever fulfill.

I admit that back in the mid-70’s it was a rather less chic and a rather more malodorous place, but I still had a fondness for the market, not least of all because it was where I learned that the grocers had long memories. My father was unforgotten to the man in the green apron who exclaimed when we first arrived back, “Well! If that isn’t little Jackie Cowan, I’ll be damned!” That we will not be forgotten as we move away, and perhaps back again has seemed like a terribly valuable thing to me ever since. It gave me comfort through over 22 moves, between two countries, three provinces, several cities, and well more than a dozen schools… that maybe I would not be forgotten either.

And so it was that about 17 years ago, when my Dear Spouse began his MA in Toronto and we moved back to the city from the small town we’d been in for 5 years, that I insisted that we had to start shopping at the St. Lawrence. It was there that in the visible stages of pregnancy a grocer thrust a 6-litre basket of plums into my arms and insisted I take them free of charge because I’d need them more than he did. And it was there that we met our butchers at Mano’s meats. They knew our son before he was born, knew we were in grad school, and knew that we had a very tight budget of not more than $100 a month for all our meats (in 1992 $) for the three of us, and that we spent every penny of that budget in their shop. And so it was that with every order we would find a little extra something had been thrown in at the end. Maybe some sausages, maybe some bacon, maybe some souvlaki… always something that said, “We appreciate your business, and we like you.”

When we moved to Waterloo we really tried to adopt the local markets, but they just aren’t the same. We find them touristy, pushy, and crowded, full of annoying people who would as soon shove you and step on you as anything else. And the ‘farmers’ stalls’ that are supposed to be about local harvests and local employment are selling pineapples and using badly exploited migrant labour. We gave up trying after almost 5 years, and returned to Mano’s and to the St. Lawrence market. What convinced us that it was the right decision for us to drive into the city once a month was not just the quality of the meat, or the prices, or the family run business, but that when we walked up the the counter, the woman who had always served us was there and she recognized us immediately. “Oh my goodness!” she said when she saw us, her thick Greek accent filled with a warm welcome, “How’s you boy?” she asked us, and proceeded to try to recall which small town we had moved away to some years before. That we had been remembered made tears stream down my face.

For the month that followed, we ate with pleasure, and could hardly wait to go again. It’s become a monthly ritual, a kind of ‘date’ for us. Each time we’d arrive at the counter, the woman would present us with 2 coffees (and something for the boy if he came along), and then we would begin: “3 whole chicken breasts, a nice roasting chicken, some butterfly chops…”. So we would continue through their selection from chicken through the pork, beef, and lamb to the bacon, and at the end of wrapping each package the woman would come back to us, smiling, and say, expectantly, “OK. Something else?”

We last went to market in September. October was so busy that we didn’t eat at home as much, and our shopping lasted us an extra long time. Today we made the journey in, and I began, as always, on the ground floor at the bakery while Dear Spouse parked the car. We agreed that we would meet at Mano’s after I’d been to the artisanal cheese maker in the North Market. However, Dear Spouse ended up getting me at the North Market.

“Did you come up the main floor way?” Dear Spouse asked me.

“No, why?”

“Honey, I don’t know how to tell you… but the Mano’s people are gone. They retired, sold the business, and the whole family has gone to Greece for a month. I don’t think we’ll see the lady again, but the old man will be in the store working in December.”

And so it was that I found myself, tears streaming down my face again, standing in front of Mano’s in the main Market building. My boy is over 6’2″ in part because they made sure we could afford to feed him well as he was growing. And, together, we were all part of the collective memory of the market. It was just in September when we were leaving that I remarked to Dear Spouse that I had never managed to learn the woman’s name, but that I cared for her like an old friend, and had to find out what her name was.

Now I will just have to write a letter to the whole Mano’s family, and hope that the woman knows that we will always remember her.

I hope the new owners will honour the name of the business, but it won’t ever be the same.



“I have to get a bell…”
November 21, 2008, 3:01 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

Actually, I don’t have to get a bell. You can’t see my bell in the photo of the Blue Beauty (BB?), but I have a bell the size of a small apple mounted on my handlebars. When I ring it, the bell makes a bing-bong-bing sound. It’s only supposed to go ‘bing-bong’ but something about how I ring it adds an extra ‘bing’. It’s not the bell that came with my bike, either; that bell met an untimely end when it loosened, fell off and cracked on the pavement. When I went to replace it, all the traditional bells were sold out because new Ontario safety laws mean a pricey ticket if a cop catches you without a bell. Apparently parents all over town swooped into the stores and bought the traditional bells, the small bells, the cheap bells — all the bells except for the church-sized bing-bong bell that I ended up with.

That’s fine by me. I needed a bell and I’m not concerned about heft or size. The Blue Beauty is heavy, at about 40 pounds — all steel and powder paint, heavy rims and rack… I’m not concerned about lightening the load by getting the smallest possible alloy-this-n-that.

Anyway, the point I’m gettign to is that I use my bell *a lot* and people often remark on it as I ring it in order to navigate a crowded campus with paths being used by multitudes of only partly attentive pedestrians and other cyclists. Oddly, the cheery sound of the bell alerts folks to the need to stop wandering in the middle of the driveways, and roadways that criss-cross the two campuses in town, and they good-naturedly move to the side.

So, when I was last riding home I rang my bell as I approached a gaggle of meandering girls, and as I passed them I overheard one say, “What a cute bell. You know… I REALLY have to get a bell for my bike.”

Yes, girly, you do.



Riding home from work.
November 18, 2008, 11:48 pm
Filed under: winter riding

Even though riding home by bike ultimately takes less time than if I wait for the bus, part of what I’m aiming to do is slow down… breathe… enjoy the journey. Even though I rode home in sub-zero temperatures today, I stopped to take a photo of the sun going down because it was truly quite a lovely sight… and if I’d been on a crowded bus, I would not have seen it.

Sundown on the ride home.

The snow is still crisp and pristine, the roads are relativley uncluttered, and the bike-lanes remain open for use. I don’t expect it to be so novel or charming in February.



Why ‘Stylocycle’?
November 18, 2008, 5:42 pm
Filed under: helmets, winter riding

The title for the blog was meant to have a tagline, but the layout I have chosen doesn’t permit me to include it. It was meant to say: ‘A woman about town, on a bicycle, with an urge to write’.

Thus the ‘stylo’ — but it’s also a play on words inspired mostly by the fact that when am riding around town I regularly get comments about my bike, or what I’m wearing to ride it, or on the accessories I have for it (the Van Gogh print rain-cover for me seat, or my nice basket, or my saddle-bag, for example).

Last week when I was riding across campus I rang my bell to urge a group of three young men to move to the side of the multipurpose trail so I could pass them. I was wearing a velvet skirt under my herringbone 3-quarter length coat, and had just swooshed by them when I heard one say with a kind of impressed and lighthearted expression, “STYLISH” — with lots of emphasis on the ‘ish’… and so it was that I came upon the name for the blog… writing about cycling with style.

Now, as an academic you might suppose that I would be ‘above’ considerations of style and aesthetics, or other such frivoloities, but here’s how I see it: if part of what prevents people from deciding to bike to and from work, or about town on errands is that they find it impractical to get all suited up in clothes that really don’t fit in with the way they live their lives, with their intended points of arrival and so on… if they don’t have access to showers and change-rooms at work, then style is, in fact, not such a trivial matter after all. The fact that I can get around town, even in below-zero temperatures, and arrive at work in my ordinary clothes, warm and dry and without needign to change out of goofy boots and layers of neon spandex is a central part of why I find it easy to integrate my cycling into my everyday life. It’s not an ‘add on’; it’s not a hassle… and in truth, it’s pretty fun to ride around, getting comments from people who admire my bike, my bags, and the fact the today I’m riding in a pair of 3-inch stacked heel Aquatalia boots, and ankle-length skirt, and my herringbone coat. I admit that my helmet is a little silly looking, but now that there is ice out there, I’ll make a safety concession to the integrity of my noggin. I am, however,  completely lusting after the helmet covers available from ridingpretty.com.



How I fell in love with the Blue Beauty. Why you might too.
November 13, 2008, 6:22 am
Filed under: comments around town, commute by bike

Welcome.

I am Morgan Holmes, a mid-career academic at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. That is to say, my days of grad school post-punk grunge-wear and cycling to and from campus or anywhere else on an old, 18-speed Trek hybrid are long over.

When I first moved to Waterloo back in 2000, I was a freshly minted PhD, and still wore big boots and plaid skirts with cycling shorts underneath and a big biker jacket on top. My helmet, emblazoned with skulls was ironic, and spooky, and worked for me at the time.

But… my taste in boots changed. The length of my skirts became longer. My need to appear professional became more central… and about 3 years ago I realised I was no longer riding daily, that, in fact, my Trek spent most of its days in the garage while I took buses or taxis to work. I figured my life of cycling to and from work was over, outmoded by new needs (among them: not to drop my laptop or stacks of student papers into the road if I should ever take a header over the handlebars [again]).

I’ve never learned to drive… well, not a car anyway. And now that I’m officially ‘middle aged’, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not invested in learning how to drive. I just always see that there are better things to do with my money than sink it into gasoline, and car payments. Of course, we do have a car in the family,  and I do help to pay for it… but in the past year both I and my dear spouse have given up the car for daily use and taken back to our bikes.

So what happened?

In a nutshell: I went on sabbatical last year, lived completely without access to a car in Dublin for a few months, and had the pleasure of taking a research trip to Amsterdam where my host, the very charming and generous MvH, insisted that I learn to ride as the Dutch do. I spent three blissful days peddling around Amsterdam… to and from museums and cafes and little bars… and somewhere in that trip I had a realisation: we’re doing it ‘all wrong’ here in Canada.

I know I’m not alone in saying what follows; the folks at Curbside Cycle in Toronto have made a fantastic business out of changing the habits of city cyclists. It was riding around in Amsterdam, on an ancient but fabulously comfortable and easy-to-handle ‘Amsterdam bicycle’, that I realised I didn’t need to dress any differently to ride than to live the rest of my life. Seeing businessmen in fabulous suits and Todd Baker dress-shoes, professional women in lovely dresses and heels, and all combinations of friends and families riding double or even triple on their bikes just blew my mind!

So… when I came home, I started looking around for an Amsterdam bike. The first thing I found was the Electra, but reviews on it quickly convinced me that those bikes only looked like what I wanted, but were not actually what I needed. In short order, I discovered the Batavus, and a dealer not far away where I could get one. In to Toronto I went, and in early April of 2008, I picked up my small size Batavus ‘Old Dutch’ bike. I paid a little extra to get the three speed model with a front handbrake as well as the integrated pedal brake. That’s my very own ‘Blue Beauty’ in the header for the blog. When the weather isn’t too wet I carry the panier that you see on the back rack. I take that panier into work, and also into the grocery store; if I can’t fit the groceries in that panier, the likelihood is that I don’t really need them. Now, that particular basket is designed to hang on the front handlebars, but because I’m very short, I have my bars in the lowest position, so the basket interferes with the integrated headlamp. I find it works just fine to have it secured on the back rack. For the winter I bought a Basil brand saddle-bag that carries up to 35 litres of stuff — that’s a lot os student papers, plus my laptop and whatever else I want to throw in.

I’ve ridden at least 3 days a week since I got the bike, usually 4, and if work demands it, 5. Since April I’ve used only 5 bus tickets and taken a taxi only once.

This past week-end we had an unusually generous and early dump os snow. You can see some of it evidenced in the header. Today I rode the bike in the snow for the first time, and as promised, the weight of it cut right through the snow, no problem! Today is also the first time that I went out on the Blue Beauty looking more like my old-style cyclist and less like an everyday commuter who just happens to ride a bike. However, today I only had to go to the gym, so it didn’t seem to make sense to ‘dress up’ justto make a point. Besides, I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t fall over, so I wanted a little ‘extra’ padding on. For the most part, though, I’m going to try to keep riding in winter in the clothes that I would wear if I were going to ride the bus, perhaps even a little lighter as I know I won’t have to wait an extra 10 minutes in the freezing cold because the bus is late *again*.

I hope this blog may inspire others to join me in the effort to reintegrate the bicycle as an everyday mode of transportation for the first time since we were kids.

Winter riding conditions for today.

Winter riding conditions for today.

Now, I’m going to go make myself a hot drink, and finish some reading for my graduate class tomorrow.